03.13.08

Schiff, Rogers Introduce Legislation to Make Background Checks for Volunteers Working with Children Reliable and Accessible

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Thursday, March 13, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

Schiff, Rogers Introduce Legislation to Make Background Checks for Volunteers Working with Children Reliable and Accessible

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to respond to safety concerns, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced legislation to establish a permanent, nationally-accessible background check system for youth-serving organizations. The bill, the Child Protection Improvements Act (H.R. 5606), would make background checks for volunteers working with children reliable, affordable, and comprehensive.

“We are fortunate to live in a country where millions of volunteers generously make time to participate in community service,” said Schiff a former national Board Member of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America.  “But with so many volunteers working with children we need to ensure that child predators are not preying on innocent children through the guise of volunteerism. Children’s safety is paramount, and we need to make certain that those working with our youth have been thoroughly and properly screened.”

“As a father, and like other parents, I want my children to always be safe and protected from predators and criminals,” said Rogers, a former FBI agent. “Every child in every community should have the benefit of playing and learning in an atmosphere in which they are not at risk of physical or emotional harm. Affordable, comprehensive background checks of volunteers are essential for the safety of our children and the peace of mind of parents, families, educators, and local law enforcement.”  

The pre-existing Child Safety Pilot program performed over 37,000 fingerprint-based Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks since 2003.  In 6.1 percent of cases, over 2000 individuals, potential volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern, including very serious crimes like sexual abuse of minors, assault, murder, and major drug offenses.  In many cases, only a fingerprint-based national background check could reveal these criminal histories.

But the pilot was limited in its scope and duration revealing some serious vulnerabilities:  only one-third of states allow mentoring organizations to access FBI searches and some of the states which do allow access charge fees that are too high for small non-profits.  For a majority of youth-serving organizations there is no way to perform reliable, timely, and affordable national background checks on volunteers, outside of the pilot program that the Child Protection Improvements Act expands and improves.

More specifically H.R. 5606 will:

  • Ensure that youth-serving organizations of all kinds, all across the country, have access to FBI fingerprint searches;
  • Streamline the process of obtaining nationwide background checks through the creation of a new national Applicant Processing Center; and
  • Engage the expertise of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in reviewing the criminal records and making determinations as to whether the individuals should be allowed to work with children.

Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Orin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the companion bill in the Senate today. The measure has been endorsed by American Camp Association, Afterschool Alliance, America’s Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, National Collaboration for Youth, YMCA of the USA.